Illumination in Bonaventure’s Epistemology
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In the case of certain knowledge the mind must be regulated by unchangeable and eternal rules which operate not by means of habit of the mind but by means of themselves as realities which are above the mind in the eternal truth (p.133).
For certain knowledge, the eternal reason is necessary involved as a regulative and motivating principle, but certainly not as the sole principle nor in its full clarity (134).
But along with the created reason, it is continued by us in part as is fitting in this life.
A creature is related to God as a vestige (as to its principle), as an image (as to its object), and as a likeness (as to an infused gift) (p.135).
Bonaventure proclaims divine cooperation “in any work accomplished by a creature”:
as far as it is a vestige. . . as the creative principle
as far as it is a likeness. . .in a manner of an infused gift
as far as it is an image . . . as the moving cause (136)
The difficulties with the opposition are resolved in the following paragraph:
Since certain knowledge pertains to the rational spirit in as far as it is an image of God, it is in this sort of knowledge that the soul attains to the eternal reasons. But because it is never fully conformed to God in this life, it does not attain to the reasons clearly, fully, and distinctly, but only to a greater or lesser degree according to the degree of its conformity to God. . . . . it always attains to the reasons in some way (136).
So the mysterious existence of certainty in our seemingly contingent minds is explained
with this doctrine of light. The fact that we can doubt sometimes even the very existence
of God and his light is explained by the lesser degree of conformity of the image to the
exemplar. The latter is due to the deformity of gift and glory and could be mended. The
observable fact that we do learn from the world of sense is also explained:
Since the soul is not an image in its entirety, together with these eternal reasons it attains to the likeness of things abstracted from the sense image. These are proper and distinct principles of knowledge, and without them the light of the eternal reason is insufficient of itself to produce knowledge as long as the soul is in this wayfaring state.
But at the same time mysterious cases of knowledge by saints an prophets which
seem to break the rule are also explained in the following lines:
. . . unless perhaps because of a special revelation, it transcends this state. This happens in the case of those who are drawn up into ecstasy and in the case of the revelations of certain prophets (p.136).
We can see that the theory does explain natural kinds of knowledge as well as the
supernatural ones and gives it a real metaphysical perspective. Aristotle’s knowledge and Plato’s wisdom find their reconciliation, and the teachings of the Fathers are paid homage, the theology is confirmed by the philosophy. Doesn’t it look like an ideal picture? To me it is very attractive, and it gives me a great pleasure to continue the investigation of the theory, going through more and more details. So let us also look at the Itineraruim.
As we have seen in the On the Reduction of Arts to Theology and the Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, there are various kinds of knowledge and the knowledge of the eternal reasons or the divine mind is the highest of them all. While all of them naturally desirable to the human beings – as Aristotle writes in his Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.” (I:1) – the knowledge of God is the most desirable. I have also shown that Bonaventure believed that this knowledge depends on the degree of mind's conformity to God, and those degrees differ in different human beings. Therefore, the question arrives: “How to get there?” Bonaventure attempts to answer this in his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. He wants to show how this conformity can be increased in the mind, and the model for the project (Saint Francis) is chosen not accidentally.
The saint was that ecstatic soul who perceived the world pure and beautiful and loved every creature in it as an expression of his Beloved, the Creator of them all. This pure love, so common among saints, is understood by Bonaventure as the most important precondition for that spiritual journey of the mind to perfection. It is not by accident Bonaventure calls “upon the Eternal Father through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother . . . . and through that of blessed Francis. . . . He may enlighten the eyes of our mind…” (Prologue 1, p.31.) Jesus had such love, that he sacrificed himself for the sake of men. His Mother Mary had such love to her Son, and St. Francis had such love and deep respect to Jesus and Mary.
It is interesting to me that a Russian Saint Seraphim Sarovsky (1754 – 1833) also loved and worshiped the Mother of God, constantly remembered her and often was visited by Mary and her Blessed Son Jesus. The Saint even died before the icon of the Mother of God standing on his knees in his final prayer. He was extremely like St. Francis, and also many great miracles happened in his life. The Saint’s ecstatic love to all creatures and God, their source, was constantly felt by all people who ever met him and received multiple blessings from that encounter. May be there are also other means to conform the mind to God, but pure love surely is the most commonly mentioned by great Saints condition, and they know it from their own experience. The latter is not easily understood by those empiricists who speak of “impossibility” of spiritual knowledge.
Thеy do not have the necessary precondition for sufficient conformity of their minds to the divine mind, therefore, they do not have the spiritual experience, hence , for them the theory like Bonaventure’s cannot be easily verifiable. It is very much like when people who were told about certain observable facts do not want (or incapable) to go to the laboratory and see for themselves. Those are usually indifferent to the achievements of science or very often even hostile to the whole enterprise, because they feel that the talk about that knowledge of others reveals their ignorance, laziness or other infirmities and incapability, which is not flattering to their egos. Modern psychologists call it defense mechanisms, and denial in particular, when the truth when painful for the psyche is denied explicitly but at the same time is driven into sub-consciousness implicitly causing other trouble. But the itinerary of the mind into God leads the soul to the ecstatic peace, as Bonaventure puts it, and this very peace people of all ages and nations observe in the characters of those saints and sages who are conformed to their exemplar. This peace and extreme happiness are usually felt like physically emanating from those wise men and women, and they do not depend on anything material but on rather something extremely subtle. Saint Seraphim of Russia described that in following words:
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